Baseball: Healthy Lewiston-Altura excels at playoff time

Give the Lewiston-Altura baseball team credit, it knows how to turn up its game at tournament time.

Give the Lewiston-Altura baseball team credit, it knows how to turn up its game at tournament time.

After struggling to a 7-13 regular season, the Cardinals reeled off five straight victories to capture the Section One, Class A crown for the second straight season. Unseeded L-A (12-13) now finds itself in Thursday's state quarterfinals against No. 2 seed Springfield (18-6) at 3 p.m. at Chaska Athletic Field.

"We got guys healthier at the end of the season," second-year L-A coach Cory Schmitz said.

"Getting healthy was the big thing, but our mindset is different," the coach added. "We're playing each game with a focus. And we're putting the ball in play."

Three players who have had injuries, but are now healthy are senior pitcher/outfielders Cullen Neeck and lefty Landon Kieffer and sophomore third baseman Dusty Knutson.


Neeck has sparked a strong offensive postseason for L-A, batting .500 (8-for-16) with 13 RBIs. The sizzling Cardinals offense has scored 35 runs in five games. Pitching and defense have also been big factors.

"We just stayed as a family and trusted the process," L-A senior John Clobes said. Clobes has been become the staff ace and went 3-0 in section play. The left-handed pitcher takes a 7-2 record and 0.65 ERA in the state tournament. He has not allowed an earned run in his last 51 innings of work, and he will start against Springfield.

Six returning starters

L-A features a veteran team with 11 seniors and six starters back from last year: Clobes, Kieffer, Neeck, senior catcher Peyton Schumacher, senior shortstop Hunter Brommerich and junior second baseman Alex Brown.

"He's been our ignitor on offense," Schmitz said of Brommerich, the team's leadoff hitter. "He gets on base and gets us going."

Schmitz said the Cardinals have had a number of players who have stepped up offensively during the postseason. Neeck has the team's top batting average (.323, 29 RBIs) followed by Kieffer (.308), Knutson (.305), Brommerich (.302), Schumacher (.300) and Taylor Matzke (.300).

Either Kieffer (4-3, 1.62 ERA) or Neeck, who threw just 11 innings this year due to an elbow injury, will start the Cardinals' second state game. But the first game will be important for L-A, which finished 0-2 at state a year ago.

"We're going to have to play good defense," Schmitz said. "We can't give any team extra outs. Pitching, if we keep the ball down and change speeds, I think we'll be fine."


Like L-A, Springfield is in the state field for the second straight year.

"They have quite a few guys back," Schmitz said. "They have two or three good pitchers who come at you. They throw in the low 80s. ... They're solid all the way through and they have good experience."

Sam Baier (5-1, 0.42 ERA) and Branden Flock (6-1, 1.29) have been Springfield's top pitchers. Jaden Mickelson has a team-high 20 RBIs and Tanner Vogel has 18.

If the Cardinals win one of their first two games at state, they are assured a third contest.

"We want to make a better showing than last year," Schmitz said. "We kind of went up with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I think we have a better focus this year."

The winner of the L-A and Springfield game will meet the winner of No. 3 seed Ely (20-5) and Adrian (19-7) winner in the state semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Chaska Athletic Park. The losers of those two quarterfinals games meet the consolation round at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Mini Meet in Jordan. The fifth-place game will followed at 3 p.m. Friday in Jordan.

The state title game is set for 10 a.m. Monday at Target Field.

"We now what it's like, so getting back will be fun," Schumacher said. "We have to keep playing like we're playing right now."

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